Staying Strong

Flower Arrangement

I received this very beautiful vase of flowers from my my office yesterday. What helps me stay strong is knowing that there are people everywhere (and I do mean everywhere) that are thinking of me, praying for me, and wishing me well. It doesn’t take sending me flowers to know this is true. It certainly doesn’t hurt. ūüėČ

One of my neighbors asks every few days if they can do anything – can they pick something up from the store or run an errand for me.¬†Some friends text and ask how I’m doing every week or so. Some other friends call. I have another good friend who, when she’s thinking of me, sends me something off of my Amazon Wish List. I, in turn, keep it updated with things that are affordable and that I’d buy for myself if I didn’t know she was watching my list.

Thank you to all who are sharing in my journey! I appreciate every call, text and prayer!


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What Happens When I Can’t?


I’ve written lately a lot about things that have nothing to do with cancer. Mostly because cancer is a big enough burden on its own that it’s hard to carry it in the forefront every day. It’s not like I don’t know it’s there. The main reason for posting other stuff is because it’s good to get out of your own head once in a while. It’s also good to laugh and do things you enjoy so your body can relax and heal a bit.

Like most everyone else, I’ve had traumatic experiences in my life. Things like the loss of a friend or close family member, a serious accident, the end of a major relationship, a critical illness, or a major surgery. Some of us have witnessed or been victims of natural disasters like tornadoes, earthquakes or hurricanes. Nearly all of these things take a great deal of effort mentally, and sometimes also physically to sort out. It’s really important to take care of your body, mind and soul as you go through your healing process.

There are so many things about cancer that are, or can be, traumatic experiences, and I don’t think anyone is immune to the stress reactions that come along with being diagnosed with any kind of cancer. Starting with the diagnosis – you feel a lump that’s out of place; the mammogram, CT scan or MRI shows something abnormal; the biopsy – these are all things that are pretty scary as they’re happening. Learning about the treatment plan – whether you will have surgery, chemo or radiation, or a combination of them and in what order, along with how long the process will take – is daunting to think about. Just hearing the side effects of the drugs and the things the chemo team wants or doesn’t want me to do is enough to turn me back into the class clown.

Going through each phase of the process – surgery, chemo and radiation – is stressful. Which side effects will show up and when? How bad are they and what can I do to mitigate them? What happens when I can’t?

Indeed. What happens when I can’t?¬†

Listening to the nurse rattle off all the side effects of chemo and the things I am allowed (or not) to do while I’m on chemo brings out the class clown in me.

Nurse: “We don’t want you to participate in contact sports while you’re getting chemo.”
Me: “Dang!! I was all set to try out for the rugby team this week!!”

You’ve seen my anger, fear and anxiety in action already. The thought of fighting chemo brain for the next 10 years when most of the medical community pushing chemo refuses to recognize it or its seriousness as a side effect sends me reeling. I feel pretty much the same way about heart, liver and kidney damage as well as permanent neuropathy caused by chemo. Those 5 things are a lot before you even get back to the fact that it’s cancer you’re fighting. I still thank my lucky stars that I have breast cancer and not one of those cancers they have no idea how to treat yet. The fact that this is the most studied, most researched and best funded cancer isn’t lost on me, but it doesn’t take away the shock of the diagnosis and the fear of how long it will take to recover after this year of hell.

Laughter is great medicine! I saw something the other day on Facebook that led me down a rabbit trail that led me to another rabbit trail and I ended up on a few video clips of interviews with Robin Williams that started with one on Inside the Actors Studio. There was an Oprah interview with him and Nathan Lane when The Birdcage was released. And a wonderful skit with Carol Burnett. I found what is probably his last interview with David Letterman. I learned that Craig Ferguson has a similar sense of humor and is almost as quick as Robin Williams during his interview on the Late Late Show. I may have laughed as hard at this one as I did the Inside the Actors Studio clip.

Exercise is important and helps blow off steam as well as keeps my body strong while chemo is working hard to keep me down. Some types of exercise are better than others. Taking a bike ride is a good thing to do, but it’s harder for me to turn off my brain while I’m riding and it’s too dangerous to ride with earbuds stuck in my ears. I can sometimes think about a song to keep up my cadence, but more often than not, I’m having big conversations with myself. Doing that doesn’t always help. I’m not really able to go to a gym right now because I have no immune system. It’s a tough spot to be in.

Eating right and getting enough sleep are also things I have to make sure I stay on top of while I’m dealing with cancer stress. Sometimes I crave sugar now, and while I don’t have to give it up completely, I know I’m prone to eating poorly when I’m stressed. I also don’t sleep right when I haven’t attended to my feelings.

So… what else can I do? Remember that stuff that’s cluttering up my life? That stuff really comes in handy sometimes. I can escape into the books, movies and TV when I need a distraction. I can put some great rock & roll music on and sing with it at the top of my lungs. I can also put on something quieter and have a good soak in the tub to relax. The best mindful practices for me, though, are to journal and write (yes, like this blog), and to get the camera out and go take photos. Taking pictures lets me just clear my head of everything but what I’m doing, and my focus is more on seeing and experiencing whatever it is that I’m photographing than other stuff that’s been knocking around inside my head. Now that spring is right around the corner, I’m hoping to have enough energy to be able to get out a little more and do some shooting so I can get some more flower pics.

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Got Me a Case of Cabin Fever

Now that I’m finally feeling better after being sick since October with some sort of upper respiratory infection or another, I realized that I have the dreaded winter malady, cabin fever. My friends from the Upper Midwest know this condition well.

Cabin fever is what you get in Minnesota in January. The holidays are over, there aren’t really any holidays to look forward to until spring – unless you work for a bank or the government, anyway, and it’s bitterly cold, dark, grey and gloomy pretty much the whole month. While Minnesotans are hearty and can handle temps below zero with blowing snow, when it’s dark and dreary, no one wants to do much of anything so they stay inside and stare at each other. After a while, the same people and 4 walls start to get to you and all you want is to get out. And that is how the Winter Carnival was born. Well, sorta.

Here in Seattle, the temperatures have been pretty balmy for January. It’s been mostly in the upper 40s to the mid-50s. Back in Minnesota that would be reason for celebration. However, it’s Seattle, and for 3 weeks of the 4 in January, it’s rained. February wasn’t much better. That means it’s was dark, dreary, wet and gloomy for the 25 days in a row. Coming into March has been a little better, but still really wet.

For the past 3 months, I’ve not left the house other than to go to chemo, the dentist, and the grocery store. This is mostly self-imposed. Chemo kills the immune system, and if I get sick, it’s worse because I can’t fight it on my own. I’m so tired of being cooped up even if it is mostly self-imposed..¬†It’s pretty limiting.

Spring is right around the corner. While I have more energy on Taxol, I don’t have enough to go too far from home, so road trips are pretty much out for a while. Damned cancer.

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Entertainment – Reading

I’ve always liked to read. We belonged to the Scholastic Book Club and I got new books about once a month. I loved the books that won the Caldecott or Newbery Medals. There were all the books about Ramona Quimby, Where the Wild Things Are, The Story About Ping, The Five Chinese Brothers, Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, The Story of Ferdinand, Harry the Dirty Dog¬†and¬†Clifford the Big Red Dog. Or who could forget the adventures of Curious George and Madeline? As I got a little older, I graduated into Johnny Tremain, Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret, Henry Reed’s Babysitting Service, Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Wrinkle in Time, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Island of Blue Dolphins, My Side of the Mountain, The Pearl,¬†Lord of the Flies… Am I bringing back memories?

In junior high, I’d spend whole days in my room reading or re-reading books.

There was the stuff we read for class throughout high school РOedipus Rex, Our Town, A Raisin in the Sun, Antigone, Flowers for Algernon, Hawaii, Macbeth, Everyman, Hamlet, The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, 1984, The Great Gatsby, The Taming of the Shrew, The Catcher in the Rye, Beowulf, Death of a Salesman, The Canterbury Tales, The Iliad, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Les Miserables. I know there are more, but my memory is shit.

I don’t know how many times I read Jaws. I know I read The Bourne Identity at least twice. I managed to get all but about 20 pages from the end of The Stand. Same with Alaska. I loved The Drifters. Swallowed up Hermann Hesse. I read some of the same books my dad was reading at the time – The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, The Stories of John Cheever, short stories by John Updike. I blew through the V.C. Andrews books my mom was reading, too. I remember reading The Name of the Rose, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: Odyssey 2, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Valley of the Horses (I couldn’t finish it), Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Go Ask Alice, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Star Wars, Shogun, Helter Skelter, All Things Bright and Beautiful, Love Story, tons and tons of poetry and who knows what else.

College brought probably less pleasure reading and more required stuff. Textbook stuff mostly.¬†There was a period during school that I wanted to understand more about serial killers and read books about all of them I could find. I learned things about human behavior that I’m still not sure I wanted to know existed. I picked up Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, but still haven’t bothered to read it.

During and after college, I know I focused a lot on short stories. They were well written and didn’t take a lot of time to read. I had a subscription to Story Magazine and started collecting the annual anthologies. I’m still mad that I got rid of both of those. A coworker got me started on Outlander in the mid-90s. Those books brought out the binge reader in me. I remember more than once sitting in my bed unable to put those books down. John Sandford was another writer whose books started filling my shelves. I own all of his books. I read and enjoyed the entire Master and Commander series.

Over the years I’ve tackled a lot of the required reading from the old days as well as some newer novels along the way.¬†I’ve read some good stuff and some bad stuff and some really weird stuff.¬†I figured out somewhere along the way that I really like a good, well written story with relatable characters.

So what am I reading now? At last count, there were roughly 1100 books in my Kindle library, not counting those that were borrowed and returned to the library. My physical library probably has a few hundred in it, too. With all these books you’d think it would be easy to find something to read and get them out of the way. Ha!

In the last year or so, I’ve read a lot by Brene Brown. I’ve tried to read books before the movies, so both versions of Girl on the Train, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series, the Game of Thrones books, Wonder… When I was traveling, I read a lot of short stories in between tech books for work. I’ve got The Best American Mystery Stories of 2017 sitting on my nightstand. I’ve read the first 2 stories in it. As much as I think I have time for books, I keep finding other things to do. I’ve been puttering reading for the last maybe 6 months.

The last book I read to the end was Sherman Alexie’s¬†You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir. If you don’t know Alexie, he’s a Native¬†poet, short story writer, novelist, and performer. I’ve been keeping some sort of journal most of my life. In high school, it was copying poems and other things that struck me as things I needed to remember in my life. So, a lot of Frost, Sara Teasdale, Emily Dickins, etc. These days it’s different. I haven’t done much creative writing since college. A poem here and there. Pieces of things for short stories. Mostly just live streaming the things that were going on in my life and processing through them. It was Alexie’s memoir to his mother that inspired me to write poetry again. I put maybe a half dozen poems in a notebook while I was in Denver in October. Then… I lost the notebook at the airport. I tried 9 ways from Sunday to get it back and was not successful. Not sure what karma was thinking there…¬† I can’t remember a single word I wrote in those poems. Unusual for me. Writing things down used to commit things to memory – it was how I got through high school and college. Maybe those were words that I just needed to let go to the wind.

One of these days I’ll put the ideas for my short stories together and actually come up with something readable.

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About the Filler

When I first started this blog, I thought about writing a post every day. I’m ever so glad and thankful that I chose not to go that route. Aside from feeling like I’d be behind the 8-ball every day chasing a clock to get a post out, it sounded tedious to me to have to come up with something every single day that was new. I also felt like a daily dose of cancer and chemo and all that goes with cancer treatment would just be overwhelming. Both for me and for you. And that part was right.

Cancer is and can be overwhelming. The trick is not to let it take over. There’s already so much of it that’s out of your control that sometimes it’s tempting to fall into the hole where everything sucks because, y’know… CANCER.

Fortunately, it’s not really like that. Sure, there are good days, bad days and in between days. I don’t think it matters that much which chemo drugs you’re on. The ratio of good to bad days changes some. In my experience, it shakes out to be mostly in between.

So… had I decided to chronicle this all daily, I think you’d be bored to tears by now. It would be a lot of had chemo, was tired, took a nap, had night sweats, tried 10 things to counteract that, had this or that side effect, discovered I could or couldn’t eat or drink a thing so added that to my list for a separate post, and the weather was rainy/cloudy/sunny and I was or wasn’t able to get anything done today. Yawn.

For the most part, I’m okay. There are good and bad and in between days. There are things I can’t do and I need to get someone to help me. The cancer part is temporary. The treatments and their side effects are mostly temporary. When I run up against something that is going to be long lasting and it’s going to be a problem, I let myself be angry about it. I let myself feel the fear of whatever that means for me long term. And I’ve let you live my stream of conscious on these things.

In the meantime, there are other things on my mind. There are things I need to do while I’m “stuck” at home, and I know they’re not horribly exciting or interesting, but they’re things I need to deal with sooner than later. I just realized I haven’t done a post yet on end of life planning. Another one of those fun things cancer throws your way.

I’ll still post things about the changes from chemo. As I get closer to the radiation, you’ll get my anxiety head on. Then you’ll hear how thrilled I am to be going back on chemo. And eventually, you’ll share my joy at being done with this year of hell. Right now, I’m 4 months into this journey. Not quite the halfway point.¬† I’ll try not to make you suffer too much with the filler stuff while you’re waiting to hear good news.

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The 6 Months to Live Bucket List

This list was inspired by the book¬†1,000 Places to See Before You Die,¬†and the website “Bucket List Journey.” Because, as we’ve heard, no one on their death bed ever says they should have worked more. I’m no exception. Let’s face it,¬†when you’ve been told you have 6 months to live, the last thing on your mind is how much more work you can get done. I mean, if I were working on groundbreaking research and were on the cusp of a huge discovery I might feel differently. But… I’m not. So if I get this shitty news, I’m gonna be a travelin’ fool!

I’m someone who wants to set foot in every state in the US, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m also someone who wants to see as much of the world as I can before I hit my eventual expiration date. Near as I can tell, even given that I have cancer, I have at least another 20 years to see as much as I can.

If I were kicking the bucket in 6 months, I’d probably not feel the need to finish checking the US states boxes, but would want to see a lot more of the rest of the world. So, here’s where I’d go, spending about a month in each place. This is assuming, of course, that all the rest of my affairs are in order.

  • Ireland, Scotland England
  • Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Norway
  • Portugal, Greece, Italy
  • Japan, South Pacific, So/Central America
  • Alaska, Utah, New Mexico
  • Eastern Seaboard + Nova Scotia & Newfoundland

Ireland has been on my travel list for almost my entire life. I’ve been interested in our genealogy and history at least since junior high. That was about the time I learned that one of my dad’s relatives on his mother’s side had paid a genealogist to create¬† family tree. I have a pretty good idea where to look to find any remaining cousins in Ireland. I have friends in Scotland, and I’m also a huge fan of Outlander, which is set in the Scottish Highlands, so a pass through Scotland is all but a requirement. I also have friends in England, and who could pass up a chance at seeing the white cliffs of Dover, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, and Stonehenge?

Aside from the fact that many of the great classical composers were born in Europe, and just wanting to see Vienna and Salzburg, the family tree also takes me to southern Austria where my great-aunt traveled back in the 70s and met some of the family still there. When I was in high school, I had a dream to ski in the Olympics, which I now realize was completely futile. That said, I still want to spend Christmas in the Swiss Alps someday. I have a high school friend in Oslo, Norway, who’s helping me with the other side of my dad’s family tree. My great-grandmother’s family came here and settled in Wisconsin. So, the fjords are calling my name.

I’ve been to Barcelona and traveled north to Figueres a couple of years ago. About that same time, my aunt and uncle were in Portugal on a business trip. The pictures she sent me were so beautiful that I decided I needed to go there myself. My former neighbor and “other dad” is Greek, and I’ve asked him to be my tour guide. Hopefully, we both stay healthy enough to make that trip in the next few years. Italy is another one of those places, like Central Europe, that was the basis of so much great art, music and culture. I really would love to see an Italian opera in an Italian opera house.

Japan has been on my travel bucket list since I was in 4th grade. We used to do a program where our class would sing Sakura for the rest of the school. I loved the kyoto music and the image of there being cherry blossoms everywhere. I wish I still remembered the lyrics to the song that we were going to sing. They weren’t the same as the actual folk song from Japan. Having read Michener’s Hawaii and being a fan of Paul Gauguin, the South Pacific interested me from high school. I’ve been to 3 of the Hawaiian islands. I want to get to Kauai next. My next logical step was to see some of the places that Charles Darwin visited. I know, still a scientist, right? So the Galapagos and the countries around Ecuador made next logical sense on my list.

In putting this list together, I also figured by the 5th month, I’d be getting tired, so I decided to come back stateside. Alaska has also beckoned since high school. I’ve wanted to see the glaciers calve forever, and now I know that there is some urgency to seeing them before they all disappear. Denali will be a must regardless. I love mountains. I’m not wild about climbing them, but I love seeing them. The highest elevation you can get by road at Mt. Rainier is 6450 ft. At Mt. Shasta, it’s about 7800 ft. I don’t know how far you can get up Denali, but I want to find out. I’ve hiked the Wave in Kanab, UT. I haven’t yet been able to see Arches Nat’l Park, Bryce Canyon, or The Grand Staircase. My dream would be to see them in winter. Of the 11 or so states I have left to visit, the majority of them are on the East Coast and New England. While I’m up that way, I would love to see if the wonderful things I’ve heard about how beautiful Nova Scotia is are true.

I suppose I should start doing some travel planning if I want to get to all these places and more in the next 20 years. At the rate I’ve been traveling for pleasure, it’s gonna take a while.

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Entertainment – Victoria on PBS

I don’t watch a ton of TV. Never have. Sure, there were Saturdays that when there was absolutely nothing else to do, I’d sit and watch The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, King Kong and all the other B and C grade movies that were on those years. In high school and college, I watched a lot of college basketball. Some of that was because that we had brackets in speech class, and I wanted to win. Later, it was just to ward off boredom.

When I do watch TV, there are a few series on the network stations1, but mostly I watch PBS. That used to be because I hate commercials. And that there was Monty Python and Fawlty Towers. Now, it’s because the only reality TV PBS carries is either from or brought to you by National Geographic. What I really enjoy, though, is Masterpiece.

In recent years, they’ve brought us Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Poldark, Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis¬†and now… Victoria. I love them all. When there’s nothing else on network TV, I’ll check PBS to see what’s on. Sometimes I’ll catch Call the Midwife, Nature, or maybe Nova. What I make time for, though, is Victoria.

I’m not going to do a full review and give you all the episode overviews. Other people get paid to do that, and not only do I not enjoy writing book/movie reviews, I’m not all that great at it. If you are interested in such things, see the Wikipedia page for more info.

If you’re not a Dr. Who fan and don’t know who Jenna Cole is, it’s time you did. She plays Queen Victoria on the series. This is the Queen Victoria who assumed her reign at age 18 in 1837. She was the longest serving monarch with 64 years until she was just passed by Elizabeth II. Daisy Goodwin wrote both a novel about Victoria and the screenplay for the series.

I find the series delightful, insightful and educational. There was an episode dealing with the potato famine in Ireland that put some things in my family history in better perspective. Or at least gave me a few things to think about.

Victoria holds an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so don’t take it just from me.

1¬†The network series I generally watch are: NCIS, Blue Bloods (cuz Tom Selleck is still eye candy), Grey’s Anatomy (mostly for the sunny views of Seattle), Big Bang Theory and, for the time being, This is Us. I’ve been known to watch the occasional episode of Chicago Med or Chicago Fire. After this season is done, I probably won’t be watching any more of¬† This is Us.

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